Ladybud Interview with National Cannabis Patients Wall’s Dana M. Arvidson

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The National Cannabis Patient’s Wall is an advocacy and visibility-based organization, whose primary focus is to help humanize medical cannabis by showing how many people around the world use it (and what they use cannabis to treat). Their primary source of communication with members of the wall is via Facebook, within the 17,000+ strong (and growing) National Cannabis Patients Wall Support Group, though the “Wall” itself is maintained on their website and sorted by state or alphabetically by country. The only part of the Wall to be physically constructed so far is the Tennessee portion, People there tell stories of their conditions, their treatments, their prosecutions, protests, and personal victories, helping to support each other and provide a positive, public representation of cannabis culture.

Director and Founder of the National Cannabis Patients Wall, Dana M. Arvidson

While hearts and minds are changing rapidly around the the world regarding the medicinal values of cannabis, the vast majority of humans in need of cannabis for medical reasons can only access it at great personal risk due to prohibition. The Director and Founder of the National Cannabis Patients Wall, Dana M. Arvidson, maintains comprehensive information about each of the patients on the wall, from age to illness. She is aided by an army of volunteers, including co-founders Jennifer Atkinson, Vicky Anderson, Tracy Ansley, Candace Junkin and Connie Docekal. One of their volunteers, Cynthia Carroll Long, passed away unexpectedly in January, inspiring this year’s theme of “unity.” Dana recently agreed to answer some questions for Ladybud about her advocacy.

LB: When and why did you found the National Cannabis Patients Wall?DA: The Wall began life as the Tennessee Patient Project. Just over 2 years ago, we had a medical bill, the Koozer-Kuhn Bill that I personally felt was not garnering enough attention for the patients here in TN. 

I am a simple woman who lives in the middle of nowhere. I thought for days about what I could do. I thought of why I do what I do. My thoughts turned to my father in-law. I took care of him for 4 years while he battled colon cancer. That got me to thinking about the Wall in DC.  Dad did 2 tours in ‘Nam and has three Purple Hearts.  So I decided to build a Wall.  The TPP Wall was over 67’ long x 5 1/2 tall and contained hundreds of Tennessee Patients and over 80 pictures.  I ran out of display room on the side of a barn, fighting off two cows and a bull to hang it long enough for a picture. While I was working on the TPP Wall, others from other states wanted to join the project. I explained it was just for a Tennessee bill.  Well, I got tired of saying no, and realized that everyone else was just as deserving as we are. I have said often that no one person will ever end prohibition. It will take all of us working together.  I knew I could not do it alone, so I asked a friend, Jennifer Atkinson, if she would help me take it national, and she consented to do so. One year and one month ago, we went national on April 4th, 2014, and The National Cannabis Patients Wall was born.  While working on the national project, the same thing happened with people from other countries, so we are truly international, as we are now followed by over 17,000 on Facebook alone by people in 38 countries.

LB: What are the most common questions people have for you?

Pennsylvania Patient Diana Louann Stanley is on the National Cannabis Patient Wall

Does it cost money to have your name on the Wall?
No, it does not. Though funding in a concern, being a Patient on the Wall will always be free. We do have a Cannabis Shop with goods that raise funds for the construction of our Wall.

It can be dangerous to add your name. Why would you do that?”
We understand that anonymity can be of great concern to some. For legal reasons, employment, housing, family etc. We have provided for that in that you can just use your first name and first initial of your last name. For example, Dana Arvidson is very recognizable, but use Dana A. instead, and I could be anyone.  Also when you add your name to the Wall, you are standing up not only for yourselves but all of those that have no voice and depend on us to be theirs.

I am not a registered Patient?  Can I still be on the Wall?
YES!  A patient for us in any person that has a condition or illness that can be assisted by the use of Medical Cannabis, regardless of age or location. We also honor those that have passed on our Wall. Just as they will always live on forever in our hearts and minds, we will honor their lives on our Wall.

Why is my particular disease not on the Registration Form?
All illnesses specifically listed in our Registration Form were derived from medical marijuana bills that were approved at that time across our nation.

What do you do with all the information from the Registration Form?
With each new patient that registers, their data is collected and added to our charts and graphs that track a variety of information that can be printed out and used for educational purposes, given to health care providers and legislators, etc. For example, here in Tennessee two years ago, one of our legislators said “We do not know how to dose it,” in reference to cannabis.  Well, that is just one of the many questions our data is providing answers for.

LB: Your website says you take volunteers. What roles do volunteers fill in the organization?

DA: While we started out as a simple project to build a mobile, weather proof, lightweight Wall a mile long with 25,000 Patients and 8000 pictures and display it right in front of the White House, we have really grown to offer our members useful resources to assist them in a variety of areas.

A patient wearing a NCPW t-shirt at San Antonio NORML’s 1st Annual Global Marijuana March.

We have our support Wall, and an Facebook Admin team that runs things there for us. Connie Docekal is our Facebook PR Goddess and Senior Admin and one creative lady!  Vicky Anderson is our Asst. Director, and she does all our graphics and forms, aids in idea generation, runs our off-site groups like Google+ and such, produces all our videos and oh so  much more and is just amazingly talented. Jennifer Atkinson is in charge of content sharing, on Facebook and elsewhere and is our Twitter Queen who is currently working on a special project to help our funding. Maria Olarte is a new addition and Director of PR. All these wonderful ladies and all of our Admins on Facebook volunteer countless hours to help us make sure that everything runs smoothly. They approve members and delete bad posts, keeping our Wall suitable for children. The share our community, they share our project, provide patient support, and much more. We would be lost without them.

LB: What are the long-term goals for the National Cannabis Patients Wall?

DA: Once the entire Wall is debuted, it will be divided among all the states. Each state’s Wall will be debuted on the same day across the nation at each state’s Capital.  We will shortly be seeking volunteers in each state to take on that responsibility. We also have Web TV Channels we are looking for Content Creators and Editors.

LB: Other than the wall itself, what does the NCPW offer members?

DA: In addition to our support group on Facebook, we also have our Study group. Cannabis studies are listed by disease for easy reference and printing out, and sharing with family, physicians and legislators. We also have a Bill Registry Group, where you can go and find your State’s legislation and legislative contact information.

On our external website we have our Fundraising shop. We offer cannabis leaf and hemp cord jewelry, as well as t-shirts and vaporizers, with 100% of the profit going to fund the Wall.

Our Website also houses our Virtual Wall as well as networking resources, tips on activism, and how to be safe, and downloadable and printable versions of our brochures and flyers. Our ‘Patients in Need’ area is where we post our members’ personal fundraising drives. We also provide a wonderful way to find like-minded folks in one’s area, by state and then by county.  It is our hope that people will use these resources to work together, learn, change their laws, and make a few friends along the way. 

All of these areas and others take a considerable amount of management. We have current open Admin positions and their base requirements on our website.

LB: What is the most unexpected thing you’ve learned doing this advocacy work?

DA: Hmm…That is a mixed bag. The average age of our Patients on our Wall was surprising, which happens to be 50-60, followed by 30-50. Also, how absolutely exhausting, maddening, infuriating and heartbreaking it can be.  How exhilarating, rewarding, fulfilling and joyful it can be.

LB: How do you stay inspired when progress is slow and patients are in need?

DA: That can be a challenge at times, especially during those really tough times when we lose one or more of our patients. It can be so utterly heartbreaking and frustrating, but then that in itself keeps me going. Anger, for better or worse, is a great motivator for me.  These are Patients we are talking about, and they need help. We all do.

A painting by 14-year-old Cannabis patient and artist Candy Waters

We are also truly blessed by having an amazing community. They are compassionate, knowledgeable and supportive of others. They are imaginative and creative as well. Our Admins are also always coming up with wonderful ideas and new areas to expand into to offer our members, our patients and the general public as many resources and avenues of education as we can. Our ultimate goal here it to be instrumental in changing our laws on both the state and Federal levels until each and every person in our country is granted safe access to medical cannabis.

Those who would like to have a “brick” in the National Cannabis Patients Wall can click here to fill out the simple, painless application. Registrants in some cases do not have their last name published, only their initial, for safety or legal purposes, but many choose to provide their full names as an act of solidarity.

Readers can also “like” the National Cannabis Patients Wall Support Page group on Facebook for regular updates and the ability to interact with cannabis patients all over the country and world. They can also donate to ongoing fundraising efforts to make a physical Wall for each of the fifty states, with an end goal of producing a mile-long wall against prohibition.